Thursday, February 5, 2015

Rae Lakes Basin In Kings Canyon National Park

Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
View From Glen Pass

Painted Lady

Fin Dome

Rae Lakes From 60 Lake Basin Trail

Rae Lakes On Climb To Dragon Lake
Dragon Lake

Trail On South Side Of Glen Pass

Rae Lakes From Glen Pass

Ranger Cabin

Overnight On Loop Hike

Near Dollar Lake

I visited the Rae Lakes area in Kings Canyon Park on three occasions. The first time I went there, I did it as a two-day loop. Most backpackers take four days or longer. Rae Lakes is a part of the well-known “Rae Lakes Loop”. The loop is about 42 miles and begins and ends at “Road’s End” near Cedar Grove. The loop hike can be done clockwise or counterclockwise. Doing the loop in a counterclockwise direction puts all the elevation gain (about 7,000’) at the beginning till one reaches Glen Pass and it is all downhill from there. The elevation of the Rae Lakes area is about 10,600’. For those who think I went too fast, Leor Pantilat did the loop in seven hours.

I must confess that for me, the lower leg of the loop following Bubb’s creek does not offer much of a view. Once out of Junction Meadow you begin to climb again and see the magnificent mountains around you when you join the John Muir Trail (lower Vidette Meadow) heading northbound. The same is true of the upper part of the loop beginning at the Woods Creek suspension bridge and here is my point. In other  words, the best part of the Rae Lakes hike is the JMT portion. For those who want to see Rae Lakes without doing the loop, it is better to go over Kearsarge Pass from the Onion Valley Trailhead and take the upper trail to where it meets the Northbound JMT. It does involve going over both Kearsarge and Glen Passes but the out and back from Onion Valley is about 10 miles shorter than the loop and has much better views. There is water and a lavatory facility at the Onion Valley trailhead plus a private campground available for a fee.

The loop hike wilderness permits are available in the park at Road’s End. The wilderness permits for the trail beginning in Inyo County and can be obtained at the station in Lone Pine. There is a two day maximum stay in the Rae Lakes area because of the popularity but one could head toward the 60 Lake Basin and also stay at the first lake on that trail or stay overnight at Dragon Lake above Rae Lakes. My other two visits were over Kearsarge Pass and if I ever go to Rae Lakes again, it will not be from Road’s End.

There are bear boxes at Rae Lakes and a ranger station. Stop by and sign in to let the ranger know you are passing through and ask about recent sightings of the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. The 500’ climb to Dragon Lake, which is in a bowl, is worth the effort but there is no trail once the climb starts. If you climb it with a pack, you might as well stay the night there. Rae Lakes is a very special place in a great National Park.    

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